Blockchain is built for protecting information, one of its major selling points. But VISHAL BARAPATRE – Chief Technical Officer at In2IT Technologies, asks what effect the PoPI act have on it.
The Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Act is looming on our horizon. South African organisations are busily preparing for it despite there still being much debate about what the real impact will be and whether or not it will be truly effective. However, one thing is certain, a legislation that protects personal information (that is, any information relating to an identifiable, living person) is necessary, and any technology which could support PoPI within the business should be seriously considered.
One technology that seems purposefully built for protecting information is the blockchain. Although one of the selling points of blockchain technology is its inherent transparency, it certainly has effective security measures. This begs the question, could the transparency of blockchain technology conflict with the regulations that PoPI lays out, or does it add another mechanism for compliancy?
The blockchain, and PoPI compliancy
With the implementation of PoPI, organisations will need to be more sensitive around the privacy of their customers’ information – or be penalised. To do so, they will have to be more organised around the storage, use and dissemination of this data so as not to overstep the bounds of PoPI, and to take care of their customers’ privacy. There needs to be a level of ‘proof’ of where the data is kept, how it is used and who has access to it at any given time. This requirement fits in with the purpose of the blockchain: to provide a verifiable record of any data transaction, including who accesses the said data.
The blockchain is a shared digital transactional ledger that securely records and regularly reconciles transactions of virtually anything of value. Therefore, Blockchain provides accurate traceability and in turn, promotes accountability. Essentially, what the blockchain does for data storage is provide ratified certainty that all the due diligences have been conducted around a piece of data, and a means for recourse should data be unlawfully used or accessed.
There is also the security factor, which appeals to compliancy requirements of PoPI. The blockchain offers unparalleled security features, given its multi-verification nature and tamper proof mechanism of protecting already verified data. If current trends are anything to go by, the blockchain will only get more secure, which makes it ideal for use as a potentially impenetrable storage mechanism.
The question around transparency still exists. Surely a platform that specifically highlights transparency as a benefit automatically precludes it from being suitable for an act which stresses the protection of a person’s privacy? Not necessarily…
A blockchain can be programmed with certain pre-defined rules, or permissible actions, around what may be done with any piece of personal information, based on the type of information it is. Although the information may be visible to anyone with access to the blockchain on which it sits, these parameters automatically create alerts when certain data is accessed, used, or disseminated in any way that falls outside their bounds.
Granted, there is still the risk that the data may be accessed by unauthorised individuals, but the organisation will be alerted and can take immediate action. The blockchain provides verifiable proof of who accessed the data illegally, for what reason, and what was done with the data. It can then be raised with the PoPI regulator, if required, or can take internal action, as desired (or as required by policy and/or law).
The only real grey area with using the blockchain for complying with data storage, is that there will exist a permanent, in-erasable record of the data, indefinitely. PoPI does define that an organisation must honour an individual’s request for their data to be removed once it is no longer in use. The immutability of the blockchain could prove a problem, nevertheless an organisation still retains control of who may or may not access the data, and could exercise that control to ensure that the data remains all but invisible for its lifespan.
IoT sensors are anything from doctor to canary in mines
Industrial IoT is changing the shape of the mining industry and the intelligence of the devices that drive it
The Internet of Things (IoT) has become many things in the mining industry. A canary that uses sensors to monitor underground air quality, a medic that monitors healthcare, a security guard that’s constantly on guard, and underground mobile vehicle control. It has evolved from the simple connectivity of essential sensors to devices into an ecosystem of indispensable tools and solutions that redefine how mining manages people, productivity and compliance. According to Karien Bornheim, CEO of Footprint Africa Business Solutions (FABS), IoT offers an integrated business solution that can deliver long-term, strategic benefits to the mining industry.
“To fully harness the business potential of IoT, the mining sector has to understand precisely how it can add value,” she adds. “IoT needs to be implemented across the entire value chain in order to deliver fully optimised, relevant and turnkey operational solutions. It doesn’t matter how large the project is, or how complex, what matters is that it is done in line with business strategy and with a clear focus.”
Over the past few years, mining organisations have deployed emerging technologies to help bolster flagging profits, manage increasingly weighty compliance requirements, and reduce overheads. These technologies are finding a foothold in an industry that faces far more complexities around employee wellbeing and safety than many others, and that juggles numerous moving parts to achieve output and performance on a par with competitive standards. Already, these technologies have allowed mines to fundamentally change worker safety protocols and improve working conditions. They have also provided mining companies with the ability to embed solutions into legacy platforms, allowing for sensors and IoT to pull them into a connected net that delivers results.
“The key to achieving results with any IoT or technology project is to partner with service providers, not just shove solutions into identified gaps,” says Bornheim. “You need to start in the conceptual stage and move through the pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility stages before you start the implementation. Work with trained and qualified chemical, metallurgical, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and structural engineers that form a team led by a qualified engineering lead with experience in project management. This is the only way to ensure that every aspect of the project is aligned with the industry and its highly demanding specifications.”
Mining not only has complexities in compliance and health and safety, but the market has become saturated, difficult and mercurial. For organisations to thrive, they must find new revenue streams and innovate the ways in which they do business. This is where the data delivered by IoT sensors and devices can really transform the bottom line. If translated, analysed and used correctly, the data can provide insights that allow for the executive to make informed decisions about sites, investment and potential.
“The cross-pollination of different data sets from across different sites can help shift dynamics in plant operation and maintenance, in the execution of specific tasks, and so much more,” says Bornheim. “In addition, with sensors and connected devices and systems, mining operations can be managed intelligently to ensure the best results from equipment and people.”
The connection of the physical world to the digital is not new. Many of the applications currently being used or presented to the mining industry are not new either. What’s new is how these solutions are being implemented and the ways in which they are defined. It’s more than sticking on sensors. It’s using these sensors to streamline business across buildings, roads, vehicles, equipment, and sites. These sensors and the ways in which they are used or where they are installed can be customised to suit specific business requirements.
“With qualified electronic engineers and software experts, you can design a vast array of solutions to meet the real needs of your business,” says Bornheim. “Our engineers can programme, create, migrate and integrate embedded IoT solutions for microcontrollers, sensors, and processors. They can also develop intuitive dashboards and human-machine interfaces for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) devices to manage the input and output of a wide range of functionalities.”
The benefits of IoT lie in its ubiquity. It can be used in tandem with artificial intelligence or machine learning systems to enhance analytics, improve the automation of basic processes and monitor systems and equipment for faults. It can be used alongside M2M applications to enhance the results and the outcomes of the systems and their roles. And it can be used to improve collaboration and communication between man, machine and mine.
“You can use IoT platforms to visualise mission-critical data for device monitoring, remote control, alerts, security management, health and safety and healthcare,” concludes Bornheim. “The sky is genuinely the limit, especially now that the cost of sensors has come down and the intelligence of solutions and applications has gone up. From real-time insights to hands-on security and safety alerts to data that changes business direction and focus, IoT brings a myriad of benefits to the table.”
Oracle leads in clash of
Three e-commerce platforms have been awarded “gold medals” for leading the way in customer experience. SoftwareReviews, a division of Info-Tech Research Group, named Oracle Commerce Cloud the leader in its 2020 eCommerce Data Quadrant Awards, followed by Shopify Plus and IBM Digital Commerce. The awards are based on user reviews.
The three vendors received the following citations:
- Oracle Commerce Cloud ranked highest among software users, earning the number-one spot in many of the product feature section areas, shining brightest in reporting and analytics, predictive recommendations, order management, and integrated search.
- Shopify Plus performed consistently well according to users, taking the number-one spot for catalogue management, shopping cart management and ease of customisation.
- IBM Digital Commerce did exceptionally well in business value created, quality of features, and vendor support.
The SoftwareReviews Data Quadrant differentiates itself with insightful survey questions, backed by 22 years of research in IT. The study involves gathering intelligence on user satisfaction with both product features and experience with the vendor. When distilled, the customer’s experience is shaped by both the software interface and relationship with the vendor. Evaluating enterprise software along these two dimensions provides a comprehensive understanding of the product in its entirety and helps identify vendors that can deliver on both for the complete software experience.
“Our recent Data Quadrant in e-commerce solutions provides a compelling snapshot of the most popular enterprise-ready players, and can help you make an informed, data-driven selection of an e-commerce platform that will exceed your expectations,” says Ben Dickie, research director at Info-Tech Research Group.
“Having a dedicated e-commerce platform is where the rubber hits the road in transacting with your customers through digital channels. These platforms provide an indispensable array of features, from product catalog and cart management to payment processing to detailed transaction analytics.”